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Review: New fiction from Pauline Holdstock, Paul Yee, and Daniel Allen Cox

The Hunter and the Wild Girl

By Pauline Holdstock, Goose Lane, 333 pages, $32.95

Why, in 2015, are we fascinated with stories of captivity and escape? There's Claudine Dumont's Captive and Claire Fuller's Our Endless Numbered Days, about a girl abducted by her survivalist father. Meanwhile, Jesus Carrasco's Out in the Open begins with a young boy on the run. Most dramatic of beginnings, though, is the crack of splintered boards and bones in Pauline Holdstock's latest novel as a feral girl crashes out of the dank hut where she's been held against her will and into the scrubland of southern France. Townsfolk chase her to the edge of a deep gorge, which is where she enters the story of Peyre Rouff, a once-renowned hunter who now spends his days hiding from his own demons in an abandoned château. Holdstock's 19th-century story of connection between this odd pairing of psychological isolates hints at great depth beneath the surface. Resonant and troubling, like all good fairy tales.

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A Superior Man

By Paul Yee, Arsenal Pulp, 384 pages, $21.95

Paul Yee is widely known for his books for young people, many of them focused on Chinese-Canadian history. A Superior Man, his first foray into adult fiction, could then be read as Blood and Iron or Tales from Gold Mountain all grown up – this one's definitely not for the kids. Alternating between 1881, when Yang Hok arrives in Victoria to work as a coolie on the Canadian Pacific Railway, and 1885, when he journeys into the interior to deliver his Chinese-Native son to the boy's mother, it's a roiling tale of innuendo, bullshitting, hypocrisy and saving face, where almost nothing should be taken at face value. It's a thoroughly unsentimental novel about finding home: Yang has escaped crushing familial expectations – for now – but only amid the deadly work and searing racism of Canada. He's a true antihero, difficult to like, trying to make good. It's compelling, this path to becoming a superior man.

Mouthquake

By Daniel Allen Cox, Arsenal Pulp, 208 pages, $15.95

Mouthquake is a coming-of-age story and a quest narrative of sorts. It opens in Montreal, 1979, and our narrator, a young boy with a stutter and hypersensitive hearing, is convinced his speech impediment has its root in a forgotten event he could trace if he only heard the right sound. "Certain music gives me certain feelings," he says. "Uncertain music gives me uncertain feelings." So begins his methodical trek through all of music, from A to Z. This is a stylistically inventive novel that's difficult to categorize because it's fundamentally queer. There's queer as in odd and queer as in gay, and Mouthquake is both – endearingly, Canadianly so. It's Buffy Sainte-Marie, the Stade Olympique and The Littlest Hobo, Freddie Mercury, homoerotic illustrations at a Jehovah's Witnesses convention and a boy who identifies strongly with our celebrity German shepherd. Sounds light, but his search is more dangerous than our hero expects.

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